Renique King was going through her email inbox applying for jobs when an unread message from one year earlier caught her attention.
“I had just never seen the email until that point,” she says.
The email was from a family friend and it was about Per Scholas, an innovative technology training program focused on transformative tech careers for often overlooked communities.
King was waitressing at a steakhouse along the Potomac River and fulfilling her duties as a radio repair technician in the military when the Per Scholas email popped into her inbox. She was also a new mother looking for a career that would lead to opportunity, advancement and financial security.
She knew she had to build her career for change, and she knew that technology and Per Scholas could help make that happen. She just needed that email to show up a year later.
“I had it in my head that I should check out the technology scene, so I went ahead and applied,” King said.
The initial email was about an A+ certification program—the entry-level qualification for technology professionals. King, who describes herself as a puzzle solver, saw the value in A+ certification, but she was interested in the more advanced Security+ and Network+ programs.
“Knowing that I would be more of an aggressive candidate having Network+ and Security+, I engaged with my advisor about being part of that class,” she said. “At first, they were looking for candidates who had experience, so I had to defend my throne in a sense about why I should be considered.”
King said her experience in the military fixing radios, and her natural problem solving ability, eventually swayed Per Scholas into letting her take the advanced class.
Per Scholas was founded in 1995 in the South Bronx with the goal of closing the digital divide by giving families refurbished computers from corporate offices. CEO Plinio Ayala said that the organization saw a broader opportunity after a few years and pivoted.
“We had to build a local workforce to repair these computers and they left us in short order. Three or four months with Per Scholas and they were out finding jobs that paid more,” he said. “We quickly realized that we were training people in skillsets that translated into earnings.”
Since the shift in focus, Per Scholas has concentrated exclusively on diversifying the technology workforce with talent from overlooked communities. All the training they provide is free of charge and they’ve seen their students go from making about $7,000 pre-training to an average of $30,000 after—an increase of 429%. They’ve also spread out from their Bronx roots with locations in Ohio, Maryland, Texas and Georgia.
King was the youngest person, and the only woman, in her small class at Per Scholas. Her classmates were all military vets from different branches of the service. They spent a lot of time learning together, which King likens to studying a whole new language.
King graduated Per Scholas with her Security+ and Network+ certifications and got a job as an Information Security Analyst at Capital One. But, she’s not done yet.
“The best thing about technology is that it’s very versatile. Even though I’m in cyber now, there are opportunities in machine learning, there are opportunities in shared tech,” she said. “For me it’s just setting those right stepping stones in place so I have the ability to climb the ladder.”
The future looks bright for King. She now sees a firmly mapped path of opportunity, and has security for her and her son. It’s a story that Ayala knows well.
“That’s what attracted me to Per Scholas,” he said. “The ability to change people’s destiny by providing them with a relatively short intervention and training that allows them to go on and lead successful careers as technology professionals.”